Alistair Maclean's Web Site
Other Bikes

Over the years the bikes I have had the opportunity to ride have given me a pretty good idea of what is available, here are more extended chats about some of these bikes. Opinions expressed are my own, sue me! There are many people to be thanked for these rides, you know who you are.

Laverda Jota 1000

What can I say. This was the 180° crank bike, in orange. The year was 1980. The bike had right foot gear change, left foot rear brake, not going to say I ever got the hang of that. The Laverda 3C, with lots of help from Slater Bros, became the Jota. It was a fire breathing bike. It was quite tall, the handlebars were those adjustable ace bars (quite common at the time), and the thing had a snarl. The gearing was tall, slipping the clutch in first seemed appropriate. In 2nd at normal road speeds, the bike seemed to want a moment to respond to the throttle. Then all heck broke loose, it was "catapult off the aircraft carrier time!" The bike sort of wiggled then just blasted off, then, hard on the brakes and do it again! The cacophony from below was magic as the power kicked in, the note changed tempo and that off-beat howl started.

Vibration. This thing shook like a jelly. At about 70 in 2nd, I looked down to see... that I couldn't see; the clocks, handlebar, and my hands were all a blur, it was a little shocking.

The bike turned OK, though it was a little ponderous. This was in the days before YZR-R1's, during the period that Kawasaki were reputed to have welded an anvil under the handlebar of the old K1000. A 1970's big bike with slightly heavy handling was not unusual. However, a local bike dealer that sold Jota's said that he had every single one back for crash repairs within 12 months.

Good Jota's now go for an arm and a leg. In the US, you're looking at $6000+ for a decent Jota, and its not even the real thing. In the UK, you can still find beat up cheap ones, but I suspect that the restoration market may be quite active and push up the value of those old classic triples.

Yamaha RD400 & RD250

What a difference 150cc's makes. The RD250's I rode (2 off) and the RD400's I rode (3 off) came from different planets. The 250's were good looking, the 400's were rockets.

The RD series that Yamaha derived these bikes from were air-cooled 2-stroke engines based on the original TZ250 that brought Yamaha to racing prominence in the 70's. The first major member of the family to show where the future lay was the RD350. This was a revered machine. The RD400 replaced it, the extra capacity providing an appreciable increase in torque. The RD250 was a sleeved down model, lacking all but the looks of its forebears.

Tony "Fido" Hayes owned a pretty white and red 400. It was a gem of a bike, ran well and was reliable. Then Tony tuned it. A head port and compression changes altered the character of the bike. It was not that it was a bad change, just a change. After detuning the beast somewhat (the look on the dealers face when asked for 12 base gaskets must have been a prize), it became a bit more civilized. This meant that you could now open the throttle without the thing standing on its end, which the fully tuned bike seemed all too happy to do.

Another RD400 I road was at the Chas Mortimer Racing School (at Goodwood and at Cadwell Park). These had been altered significantly from an aesthetic standpoint, to make them more robust and less prone to damage when crashed. These were fun bikes. For all my bulk and height I still managed to set 2nd fastest lap at Goodwood and lapped my fellow classmates at Cadwell. The bikes handled well, stopped well, and accelerated like God intended 2-Strokes to go.

Today old air-cooled RD's are rare machines in the US. In the UK you still see them about. Oddly, the most recent one I saw was an old RD350 in Oakland, California... And after all the work CARB put in to eliminate them, too!

Under no circumstances mistake these for the later RD250/350 LC's or RD350 YPVS. The water cooled bikes are much more advanced machines, much newer, and handle much better.

Yamaha XS850

One of the motorcycle Instructors I worked with had one of these. It was a big black bike, it was pretty, well proportioned and very reliable. This bikes only problem was with the car driver that rear-ended it. The XS was a strange combination of triple cylinders and shaft drive... just like Triumph make these days.

Developed from the XS750, it was a complete rework. It was a bit more powerful, and MUCH more reliable. Unfortunately, by the time the 850 came out most people didn't want to have anything to do with the offspring of an Yamaha XS750, that bike had been quite unreliable.

The most abiding memory I have of this bike is cracking open the throttle and both ends of it rising in unison; the front end rose on the power, the rear end rose as the shaft tried to climb over the pinion gear. It was a great feeling, one that I frequently tried, just to make sure I was doing it right.

The single problem with these bikes was weight. They lived up to their names: Excess. They were a mite portly, but this seemingly came in really handy for extended touring where the weight could be used to quell any road irregularities.

I can't say that I have seen one of these bikes in years.

Yamaha SRX600

When the front brake rotor on my GPZ500 turned into a spring clip, I needed alternative transport. Gordon leant me his little Yamaha SRX600 for a week. I have to say that I was not sure of what to expect. It was a 600cc 4-Stroke single, with a manual kickstart. It weighed nothing; had reasonable brakes, though I was to find that using the brakes was counter to the whole concept of riding a big single, and it had a comfortable saddle and seating position.

Starting was problematic. I had my right thumb well schooled in electrically starting motorcycles and though I had used a Honda CB250RS and a Yamaha XT500 on occasion, kickstarting was a new experience; I had to teach my right foot how to do work, without getting me pitched head-first over the bars on a kick back. The decompressor tended to save me from myself, fortunately. My starting protocols were never perfected and I always felt that it was a miracle when the thing burst into life after a few stabs. Perspiration in a riding suit after 5 minutes of unsuccessful kicking is not nice.

That said, the 600 proved to be a fun ride. This was an object lesson in energy conservation: in the traditional sense it returned excellent fuel consumption figures, in the less traditional sense, it required great thought to get through corners without scrubbing off too much speed, for while the engine was game, it simply didn't have the muscle of a bigger (or smaller) twin or four cylinder bike. I learned well that braking into corners was a lack of manhood. It would only do about 95 with my ample body draped over it, so excessive speed was not an issue in most circumstances, therefore braking was for extreme emergencies only. The brakes were good though, able to haul the little bike down to a stop in no time at all.

SRX600's disappeared after a few years of production. They were simply too agricultural for a group brought up on big horsepower and electric feet. They can be found today in the place they were meant for... the racetrack. They make great single cylinder racers.

Yamaha RD250YPVS

When Yamaha replaced the old air-cooled 250 and 400 with the new Elsies (LC's), they created a new generation of headbangers - overnight. I had a chance to ride a Yamaha 250 YPVS, a later version of the liquid cooled bikes. It was a bit short on low end power, but that was all made up for by a screaming midrange and top end. This was a bike that was about as useful in commuting traffic as my 996 is today, meaning: it was useless. However, a clear road, bends and some Police Free Days (PFD) showed a bike capable of catapulting the rider along at a fearsome pace.

YPVS strokers can still be found today, in some countries they are still available new.

Yamaha TY175

A whole one hundred and seventy five cc's of anger is the only bike ever to fly swat me. The TY175 was a small trials bike. I don't think Yamaha make anything like it anymore. The Poly Bike club owned this bike taking it most weekends to local holes-in-the-ground and mud patches to test peoples metal. It was generally a gutless wonder, barely capable of 45mph on tarmac, but get dirt under its wheels and it became an animal! Not in the same league as say a Bultaco or a Maico, it was nevertheless a capable introductory Trials machine.

It fly swatted me when I tried to get over a tree trunk and pulled to hard on the bars while being too heavy with the gas, it reared up, then continued over the top. I found myself on my back with the bike, wheels in the air, on my chest.

There are far more capable Trials bikes available today, and while it might soon be a quaint historic footnote, any examples you might find are likely to be badly abused.

Yamaha XT500

Adam was crashing almost daily at one point, his XS500 was finally succumbing to the abuse, so he got himself an XT500. This was an early example, with twin shocks and before the radial heads and twin carb models came out. It was a typical white and red XT, but fitted out to allow Adam to do his commuting and travelling. How his girl friend ever coped with the thing beats me. But one day at the Bike club garage Adam lost his marbles and allowed us all to have a Yamaha XT500 Test Afternoon.

This was a tall bike, well for a road bike. It vibrated like the dickens, and was almost criminally difficult to start. Getting underway with a live engine was no problem, the bike almost started just by banging the thing into first at idle. It was clearly a single when underway, it thumped and vibrated if the revs got too high, yet was narrow and easy to throw around. It was fitted with knobbly tyres, which didn't help grip on the road, and also gave a peculiarly rough ride.

XT's are much abused bikes, a good example today might be hard to find, but as an early Japanese example of the dual purpose bike it has to be worth something.

Suzuki GS650

I scared myself senseless on this bike. Out for a quick ride, I grabbed the brake at about 60mph, just to see how well it stopped, and the front wheel locked up. With the front wheel stationary, the front tucked. Letting go of the front brake, things straightened out quickly, but not before my heart had missed a beat or two. The GS was a mid-sized tourer. It didn't sell well in the UK, but it was a capable bike, cut from the same cloth as the GS1000 and GS850 before it. It was a shaft drive, four cylinder machine. It had a great big saddle and comfy ergonomics. It was an OK performer, nothing to shout about. I suspect it would have made a reasonable long term hack.

Suzuki Katana 1100

There are bikes worth drooling over, and this is one. It looked odd, with its strange fairing and flyscreen, clip-on style bars, and the juxtaposition of silver and orange colouring. But sit on the beast and you knew there was an animal waiting to get out. Not hugely powerful by today's standards (about 120bhp), quite heavy (over 550lbs), it handled well for its countenance. Light it up in a straight line and it flew, it had great torque. I'm not sure that the seating position would have worked out well in the long run, but just to go out and strafe your favourite road, it would be fine.

Good examples are hard to find today, lots ended up on race tracks in the mid-80's, and there are 1000cc versions that are NOT the same, just to confuse you.

Suzuki GSX400

Paul was a player in the Motorcycle Club at University. He decided to get with the game and find himself a more appropriate mount. He found this pretty black GSX400, an in-line 4 cylinder 400cc machine. It was well tuned for the day, and the magazine articles raved about it. It was definitely fast. But when the club members got together for a GSX400 Test Day we found out that the magazine writers were clearly more interested in the brochures than riding. We were soon coming back with ground clearance issues, and Paul was looking at an exhaust pipe with ever less chrome, and foot pegs getting shorter by the minute. That aside the bike handled well, went well for a 400, and looked like a million $. This was the first Suzuki I rode that had the gear selector display on the instruments, it was mostly useless.

Ultimately this little bike ended its life in a big heap outside the Boulogne Ferry port when we managed to stack 4 bikes, it swallowed some machinings that Suzuki had left in the cases and that was it for the motor.

You don't see many of these little bikes about, but they should be economical transport if you do find one. Never gonna be a classic, though.

Honda CB250RS

Tony Ferrari, the owner of this little gem, let us ride the bike on several occasions. The CB250RS is a single cylinder 250cc motorcycle, it has cute dual exhaust pipes, a decompressor and very useful power. It's a small bike with a low seat (not that I need such), that my old girlfriend much appreciated when she bought one of these. Dispatch riders all over London swore by these bikes. As usual with Honda singles oil changes were important, but with that observed these were very reliable bikes. Tony had his fitted with the most outrageously loud 2-into-1 exhaust. The bike thumped like a big single down low but as the revs came up that disappeared and a wailing banshee took its place. This bike was very nearly as fast as my Z250 - we often tried to prove this point.

I suspect you could get one of these for a song. It would of course be abused and beat up, but don't let that put you off. This bike has a heart of Gold.

Honda CB250N and CB400N

Like the Yamaha RD250/400 series, it's hard to imagine two bikes that look so similar, yet share so little in terms of passion. The bikes were derived from the earlier Honda Dream, having some restyled body work to reflect the look of the then new CB900F and called Superdream. The 250N fit in with the UK's learner laws of the day, the 400 with everyone else's idea of what a learner bike should be. The 250 was a dog. It displaced 250cc from a twin cylinder engine, had 3 valves for each cylinder bore. The 400 was much more entertaining with its 399cc capacity and twin disc brakes. The 400 went, handled and stopped like it should. Both bikes were remarkably top heavy, both being 'full size' bikes in Honda parlance. This also meant that they were both class heavyweights. In the USA there was even a version of the 400 with an automatic gearbox - ehhhh! Nasty.

The 250N had to be thrashed to make it perform, this results in many completely trashed bikes filling breakers yards the world over. The 400's just never sold in the numbers the 250 generated, so they tend to be quite rare birds. Both bikes were fitted with Honda's FVQ suspension system, which soon became know as "Fade Very Quickly". Replacement shocks are the only solution.

While numerically the big seller of small displacement bikes, the CB250N is a bike to be avoided

Honda CX500

More disparaging remarks have been made about this bike over the years than for possibly any other motorcycle. The example I rode was probably no different from any other: it was big, sort of went, sort of handled. The CX was a shaft drive, water cooled, 500cc V-twin with the cylinders of the V set to each side of the bike. It was a portly machine. But it lasted. It lasted longer than many of its peers. It was a bike capable of an honest 100mph+, it got acceptable fuel consumption and the engine was mostly bullet proof - except for the timing chain which was known to saw its way through cases if not checked. This was another animal of Honda's fitted with FVQ shocks, meaning rapid replacement.

Somehow Honda used this bike as their platform for giving us a Turbo. The CX500, followed by the CX650, got a turbo and enough technology to keep the 6 Million Dollar Man quite happy. Unfortunately, the technical issues surrounding turbocharging small displacement twins was something even the might of Honda failed at.

In other guises, the CX turned up as a small tourer called the SilverWing. This bike also ended up with a 650cc capacity.

On a recent trip to the UK, I saw an old red CX being ridden by a dispatch rider. This is a 15 year old model, at least, which says a lot about its sturdiness and also about all the name calling: the bike has outlived many that derided it.

Honda CB400F

I am not a great lover of Honda motorcycles, but every so often you see something they have made that makes you feel humble; the CB400F is one such marvel. This was Honda's second effort at a small capacity street legal 4 cylinder bike, the previous one being the extremely rare CB350F. The 400 was diminutive. It was physically a very small machine yet packed a 4 cylinder, 4 stroke, 398cc motor with a factory 4-into-1 exhaust; all in a tiny, tidy package. The lines on the bike were classic. The machine performed well, certainly for its day. The biggest problem ultimately would be the engine: it eat camshafts and camchains, additionally, the front brake could be a problem, rusting up completely solidly. However, the bike rode beautifully. From the day it was brought to market it was a classic.

Honda CB650

This was probably the first 4 cylinder bike I ever rode. It amazes me that I bought any other fours afterward, so bad was this one. Somehow the SOHC, 650cc four cylinder bike never managed to stir the juices. It was a lovely black bike, but that was the limit of its nice features; talk about beauty being only skin deep. Even today I would recommend avoiding this one.

Honda CB750 K0

In a moment of partial sanity a friend of mine, Simon, bought himself this old Honda 750. After much cleaning up we uncovered an exceptionally early CB 750. This was one of the first to be brought into the UK. The bike was in bad condition and though Simon had the best intentions in the world, his financial situation never allowed him the luxury of actually fully sorting this bike. The engine had been seized on several occasions, both at the cam and in the bores, the engine rattling badly. However, that said, it still ran. If pushed hard it would nip up, but generally it just smoked a little and droned on. It was a heavy bike. I am amazed at what riders in the late 70's must have thought when they got off their light Triumphs and Nortons and put a leg over this bike, were they as incredulous of its weight as I was? Today this is a bike for the devotee. Don't go there unless you want to do lots of tinkering and very little riding.

Honda VF400

Yuch! This was a 400cc, V-four machine made by Honda before they learned how to make disk brakes that could work in both the dry and the wet. The motor wasn't too bad, it was the brakes that nearly killed me. A few hard applications of the front brake and fade was not a word that adequately described the feeling I was left with. The fall from grace as I flipped upside down on some grass was the last straw. Never again. I have never ridden any other Honda V-4's.

Avoid these bikes like the plague, the VF500 was an immense improvement, but they eat camshafts and cranks.

Honda Goldwing GL1800

As a motorcyclist of some years, I have had my brushes with Goldwings. When I was younger they seemed like big jokes; as I got older they seemed cute but unnecessary; now I look at them and think, maybe one day...!

Honda has a promotion at the moment (June 2002) to take a test ride on the 2002 'Wing, so I took advantage of it. I strode into my local Honda dealer (East Hanover Honda, NJ), they photocopied my license and gave me the keys.

This GL1800 was in bright Pearl Orange Honda 2002 GoldWing GL1800 (image courtesy of Honda). It idled briskly, and looked as huge standing beside it as it did from the saddle. The saddle itself was comfortable, though I was surprised at how little moving room there was - I put this down to the girth of my derriere rather than Honda's design. The bike is big. The handle bars seem to come back at you, wide as tillers, and hold your arms out sideways. Not uncomfortable just different from the 996 (Doh!)

It was time to leave. Call me chicken, but I wasn't going to try reverse just yet - I am not THAT fat, we just rolled the bike back out of its parking spot. Pulling in the light clutch, I lightly dabbing the gear shift, and we were ready to go. The bike took a whiff of gas and the lightest touch on the clutch to get going, and off it shot. It was immediately apparent that the big 6 cylinder engine somewhere down beside my feet was made of fairly stern stuff. Wicking the throttle in 2nd gear could unstick the rear tyre, in 1st, 2nd or 3rd it straightened the arms quite suddenly. Ohhhh, this was fun. Even in 5th the engine launched the bike with some aggression. Droning along at 70mph, in traffic, it was easy to see a gap and without a single downshift get to it with just a twist of the wrist. In some ways this is a veritable land missile, it easily saw off 100mph.

Handling at 100 (heck, you get lots of time for doing the Ton here, but not much time at it!) seemed a little light and flighty, but at lesser speeds it was a very stable platform.

This is an intimidating bike up close, hurling it into corners all that intimidation returns. You remember that somewhere under you the barn door ends, but just where? I didn't grind anything, but then this was a short ride. With so much plastic painting an horizon for you, slinging the bike about has lots of the scenery moving sideways which is initially a bit distracting, but it's a feeling that soon goes. Every so often wriggling through traffic, or changing lanes, you realize that there is a big bike here, the weight becomes apparent but generally it's a nicely balanced bike, the weight held low. The brakes make short shrift of the weight when called upon to haul the plot down from speed, powerful yet at the same time being easy enough to apply at the trickle to not upset the pitch of the bike. I was not able to get the ABS to kick in... I did try however.

The biggest issue I had was with the fairing and wind blast. I am fairly tall, so I sit a long way up into the breeze, it gets quite noisy up here and the buffeting took me by surprise. The wind was loud enough to completely drown out the radio at speeds over about 60mph. Turning the volume on the radio up just lead to severe distortion and the feeling that my fellow travellers were getting more of it than me.

The cruise control works. I tried that briefly as I zoomed off an exit ramp at 70mph, its curious to feel the bike not slow as I let go of the throttle grip.

All in all, I have to say that the 'Wing was a great ride. The big motor is simply stunning. The accommodations are pretty amazing, too. My distant future may yet have one of these boats in it.

Kawasaki GPz1100 B2 & Unitrak

I am a Kawasaki Fan. That said, the two GPz elevens I rode while not the best handling Kwaks ever sold, did get the blood going with classic Kawasaki engine power output. The first to be ridden was a GPz11 B2, an across the frame, 1053cc (?) four cylinder, fuel injected, air cooled missile. It weighed about 570lbs in its socks, naked, with no fluids in sight; with fuel and oil it was portly. It's suspension consisted of twin shocks out back, gas charged front forks which worked well to keep the exhaust pipes off the ground when the bike was stationary, but became incidental on any road while moving at any speed. The motor was simply stunning; I was stupid enough to take my left hand of the handlebar - doing about 30mph - cracked open the throttle a little and... waving in the air like a flag is not good for one's demeanor.

Kawasaki, moving with the times, updated the old bike with more horsepower and a new UniTrakTM rear suspension. This machine made well over 120bhp, kicking in at about 6000 rpm, at that point in the rev range you either were holding on tight or risked falling off the back. The bike I rode had been fitted with Pirelli Phantoms (rears) front and back, this gave the bike outstanding turn in, but an evil wobble at speed. I got to 135mph taking up an entire middle lane (M1 near Nottingham) with a wobble that would not go away.

There are many mechanical failings with these bikes, the biggest being the alternator windings, but the bikes seem to keep going. The motors are strong and the frames can be given decent shocks and bearings. They never handled well, but they did make awesome sport tourers

Kawasaki Z650

Dave has a chopped Z650 he built himself. For many years I thought the Z650 would be a great means of getting about (I bought a Z550 instead). I rode a couple of these and they always proved that Kawasaki had created a fine motorcycle. It was another 4 cylinder, across the frame, air-cooled machine displacing 625cc (?) or so. Most of the ones I saw had a single disc brake up front and a drum out back, but later models had twin disc fronts. The bikes I rode were fairly nimble, rode well, had plenty of power for a middle weight and looked great. They were discontinued in the early 80's, but looking to all the world like little Z-1's, still have quite a following.

Kawasaki S1 250

I met Chris at the first place I worked after University. He was working in the sales group. He had a CB200 for daytime use and a Bell helmet with imported black visors to make riding it more appealing. But at the weekends he went out with his helmet on his other bike. This was a Terry Beckett tuned Kawasaki S1, a 250cc 3 cylinder 2-stroke motorcycle. It hauled. It didn't handle worth diddly, broke into blood curdling tank slappers at the very sight of bumps and had straight line speed that was simply wild - a perfect brew for fun! The sound it made was impressive too, 3 fat expansion chambers saw to that. I was never sure what happened to that bike, Chris probably sold it to buy the H2...

S1's are rare bikes, they were the precursor to the KH250 series of bikes. They are worth quite a bit in good condition.

Kawasaki H2 750

When Chris turned up one day saying he had just got himself an H2, we all thought he was as crazy as he could get (we were wrong of course). I'm not saying we put money on how long it would take him to 'Top' himself, but there were moments. It had been a bike with a checkered past. It carried many scares. Chris had his work cut out getting it back in shape. He had the engine rebored, new small end bearings put in, new pistons, and the heads all cleaned up. The frame was fixed, the cracks welded, and the whole thing enameled white. The tank and body work were a combination of maroon and white. It looked - well - different. It went like stink. It didn't have enough brakes to stop a FSIE, but it had enough engine to get airborne anywhere. The starting procedure was entertaining especially with its slightly bent kickstarter. Sometimes it would take 5 or more minutes of good solid kicks to get it going, other times, a half swing had the engine rasping into life. This bike was a classic rin-tin type of two stroke, I could never tell the difference, but some said the triples made a different sound.

A girlfriend nixed the bike, and so after some 6 months of disuse and with an upcoming wedding, the bike was sold but not before we had it running one last time. And there was the problem. The thing had seized solid. Chris and I took off the heads, one at a time, then using lots of oil, a wooden drift and a mallet, slowly worked the pistons loose. The heads went back and we started it. The rin-tin-tin-tin noise was back, but deep within the cases could be heard the sound of failing small ends. Oh, well!

These are classic machines, expect to pay through the nose for something that has been ravaged and beat up, maybe even had its pistons freed by barbarians.

Moto Guzzi Le Mans Mk2 850

Some might think that the 1950's 500cc Guzzi singles are IT, some think the California is the bees knees, others lust for T3's. I myself, drool over the Le Mans series. I had a short ride on the Mark II, 850cc version one sunny Sunday afternoon in southern England. A bike club member at University had obtained this bike and was stomping on anyone that wanted to race with him. So while at a pub for lunch I got to try the bike on some local roads. It was my second go on a shaft drive bike, so I was expecting much the same sense of the shaft trying to climb over the pinion wheel, but did I get a surprise when I blipped the throttle and the bike nearly fell over! The big V twin motor spins in the same direction as the shaft, all the torque tries to twist the bike round, not what I was expecting at all. Riding the machine you realise that the seat is quite plank-like, the bars are a long way out there and your knees don't fit in the cutouts, so you have to watch out for touching bits of hot engine, but the bike is taught, steers predictably, it steams out of corners on a rush of power. And it's Red.

There have been at least 4 versions of the Le Mans, the latest a 1000cc bike. You see them every now and then, the red paint fading slightly. This is a bike to be prized, but probably only on sunny weekends.

Moto Guzzi V50

I, erm, revved this little bike a bit far. At 10,000rpm I realised that the red line was somewhere closer to 8000rpm. The bike didn't bat an eyelid, I just grabbed another gear and all was forgotten. The V50 is/was a delightful smaller capacity Guzzi, it displaced 500cc, in traditional Guzzi V twin format, with a diminutive shaft drive, too. It was a small bike, much smaller than the bigger 750 derived models. It had come into the market as a result of the company developing new powerplants.

The bike handled nicely, rolled into corners well, and revved sublimely. The only issue seemed to be that it revved too well, being used to Japanese bikes, as I was at the time, it seemed quite natural to turn the wick up this high, but I am sure that extended riding in this style would shorten this beautiful bikes little life.

The V50 formed the basis of a number of models, including a sports version (V50S), and the V65 range of 650cc models. I haven't seen one of these in years, so I suspect either they expired due to abuse, or are stored in owners garages waiting the day the bikes will be considered classics

Puch 50cc moped

I have abused many machines over the years, but never so openly as this little Puch. It was a machine someone had given the Polytechnic Motorcycle Club, in none running form, to fix. Having found out its electric's had expired, it was a simple matter to get running again. However, with the aid of a small grinding wheel, we also did some amateur tuning of the cylinder head on this little 50cc motor, with the deed done we had to test ride it, and just in front of the garages was a piece of road that formed the intersection of two main roads with loop backs: Perfect. The car drivers were not prepared for what came next: The Portsmouth Poly Motorcycle Club Moped Test Day! With 5 or 6 entrants and a Yamaha FS1E for comparison, we were soon mixing it with commuter traffic; cars stuck in lines and lanes were no match for the nimble mopeds, carving up the cars on the entrance to the hairpins on the brakes was like taking candy for children. Blasting onto the main straight showed the problem though - this thing was gutless - 30mph was all she wrote. A shopping basket up front, offering more frontal area and conspicuity, lent a level of practicality to this little bullet.

Puch mopeds can still be purchased, they are efficient transport for city dwellers, though I would recommend something with a little more oomph for almost everyone that does not live in a major metropolitan area.

Harley Davidson FXSTD Deuce

Recently I had the chance to take a quick spin on a Harley Davidson, the new 88 Cubic Inch counter balanced engine at the heart of the new model. I have never ridden a Harley before, nor for that matter really got close to production custom bikes of this ilk, so this was an interesting diversion. The bike I rode was fuel injected, with the classic Harley off-beat idle. Finding the footpegs was a major surprise, they're not in the same place that my Ducati 996's are! The seating position struck me as extremely comfortable, I am not sure what the long term effect of sitting on your coccyx would be, but for short rides it was like riding an arm chair. The motor has huge power. I managed to get into 5th at about 30mph and just grunt up to highway speed from there. I suppose you could get more acceleration in lower gears, but that is not the style with this cruiser. The softtail worked well to absorb road irregularities. The front wheel was a long way "out there," and it was a narrow wheel. The front was the thing I had the most trouble with; it steered vaguely (by sportbike standards, I admit), turn in was a little precipitous, and the front brake could lockup the front wheel without too much effort.

With my minor concerns about its sport bike career dismissed, this bike struck me as being a well engineered machine with character, style, and motor aplenty. I was extremely well impressed by the ride.

Buell Thunderbolt

The Buell was a nice looking bike, quite tall, but handsome in a strange sort of way. It takes a bit to get used to seeing a bike that almost has no exhaust pipe, the thing is so well camouflaged under the bike. The fairing looks like it could do lots of weather protection. But getting on it, you are struck by how agricultural some aspects of the bike are. The instruments are a throwback to the kit bikes of the 70's, the engine rumbles away below you and the footpegs look like they came of a Massey Ferguson tractor. The motor, a 1200cc tuned Evo engine giving about 95 bhp, pulls well, though I didn't like the clutch feel. It builds speed agreeably and with authority, I didn't get the chance to rev it out and see whether the thing snarled.

I have watched Buell's progress from when a strange Mid-Westener took possession of the 2-stroke 4 cylinder motor that featured in the movie "Silver Dream Racer" and tried making the thing work. When they first wrapped that odd frame around Harleys I was still in the UK. Today, as part of H-D they have the potential to become America's foremost (only!) sportbike maker, but the bikes need a little QC love and care before they can compete with the Germans and Italians, let alone the Brits.

Triumph Bonneville T100

I finally managed to thrash a British bike! A local dealer had the touring Triumph truck and about a dozen bikes to thra...test. My first ride was the 'little' Triumph Bonneville T100, an 800cc (790cc) air-cooled twin. It has a very traditonal look; low seat, high-ish bars, comfy seating, but a generally modern disposition: it handles well, stops adequately, and goes enthusiastically. I managed to get the bike to about 90mph in a fairly short space, which suggests that there is a good bit of performance to be had. Image ripped from Triumph web site, their rights It is not really a beginner bike, but it definitely has very friendly characteristics. The engine is very smooth, quite torquey, and revs fairly well. It is very much in the same ballpark as my Wife's Ducati 750 Monster (with probably a little more power), and should appeal to much the same user community. I enjoyed this machine. It would make an excellent long distance sports-tourer. While some people were upset at the lack of fairing and hence the wind blast, I have never been that troubled by the breeze. Nor did I find that at higher speeds the bike suffered from any wind blast induced wobbles or anything. But then I did nearly 100,000 miles without fairings... A really nice ride. Now for the Thruxton!

Triumph Speed Triple

Long ago, in a land far away, I rode in short order A Jota, an XS-750 and an XS-850. Three triples. 20 years later I have ridden my fourth Triple. The touring Triumph road show brought a couple of 955i SpeedTriples, a couple of 955i Daytonas, and a 955i Sprint. The 955's are 3 Cylinder 120° motors, that give upwards of 118 bhp. The Speed Triple comes without a fairing (the Special has no fairing, the standard bike has something even a fly might miss), and has high bars. It has a very UJM seating position being a very comfortable position. Press the starter and the big lump below bursts into life. There is no doubting that an engine lives here. Image ripped from Triumph web site, their rights It has low enough gearing and an easy enough clutch action that take-off's are easy, it does not need the gyrations a taller geared sports bike needs to launch. Underway, this is a very powerful motor. It may run out of steam on top, but in the day-to-day world of cars, SUV's, and crazed golf cart drivers, the bike is embued with almost unlimited midrange power. Turn the throttle and the bike leaps forward, in some instances the bike moves forward fast enough that your rear end hits the cowl that covers the passenger seat, then it just roars off. Gears? I suppose there is more oomph in lower gears, and less in higher gears, but putzing about in 3rd seemed quite civilized. Not as frenetic as a four, not quite the bottom end torque of a big twin, the Speed Triple is a very useful and attractive road slayer. The bike is anything but boring looking. Some hate it, I quite like it. The frame with its doubled tube look is quite unique. The puss green colour on the standard bike might take a change of leathers to get in sync with, but the black or silver are easy - very easy - bikes to live with.

Ducati HyperMotard 1100S

I have never ridden a dirt bike as such, having only been on a trials bike on the dirt, but that was a totally different beast. So getting on the HyperMotard was quite a different experience. It's a tall bike, easy cleared by my lanky legs, but still leaving me a long way up in the sky. The bike has firm suspension (this being the S model with an Ohlins shock) and a seat that is very comfortable and allows practically Ducati HyperMotard any seating position known to man. The forward/rearward space was amazing. This particular bike also had fitted the $2500 optional race exhaust, which makes a wonderfully deep bellow when the throttle is blipped. It also gives the bike an extra 8bhp. The instrument cluster is essentially just one instrument, though there is a handle bar mounted switch that allows clicking through the various modes. The gauge shows a segmented arc, which is the rpm, across the top, and then depending on the mode, various numbers in the lower part of the display.

Getting underway was easy, the clutch is light, has an acceptable feel and smoothly engages the power. The power comes in nice and gently, if you just sneak the throttle open... of course if you don't sneak the throttle open, then there is simultaneous aural and visceral overload. The front of the bike goes light, a firm but gentle hand bats you down the road, and the exhaust develops this pneumatic drill like symphony. It's quite breath taking. You suddenly find yourself making little gaps in the traffic to turn the game on again. Back-up, back-up, wrench... Brab-b-b-b-b, whoosh! Roll off... Burble, burble, pop, pop! It's a fun game. And quite legal, you needn't exceed 35mph to play!

Climbing off the 996 to get on this you are struck by how little appears in front of you. There is no fairing, there's no long snoot, and then there are these wide bars. The first corner I came to I realised that I could not take it the way I am used to. I guess it's a dirt bike skill that I have never learned. It was my biggest issue with the bike. It just turned funny. I guess there is a fairly high C of G, and it takes some getting it down on it's side. I presume with any amount of ownership you would become versed in how to throw this around, but it was odd to me.

The brakes on the other hand were awesome. These ones hadn't got 140 miles on them, so they had little initial bite, but then they had almost a servo like feel that quickly compressed the front end and had images of easy, controllable stoppies coming to my mind.

One quirk that an owner might either fix or go mad over, is the mirrors. These fold out from the ends of the handlebar. They look slick and work relatively well when you get them adjusted. Problem is that they go out of adjustment very readily when the speed climbs. There is a knurled adjuster but strangely I was not willing to try and work out if it could secure the mirrors in a non-folded back manner while negotiating 70mph Interstate traffic.

Definitely an acquired taste, this bike. But very fun to test ride. The base price is just over $11,000, and the model I tried started at $14,000, with the pipe adding another $2,500. Not cheap, but a huge Wow! factor.

Ducati 848

We have been hearing the test riders say this a more street rated ride, it's not got the big power that the 1098 has, etc, etc..

Ducati 848

Lofting a leg over this bike I was soon in a familiar place. This is a very 916/996 type seating position, though the handle bars are a trifle closer to you and the standard bars are less severely angled than a standard 996. The instrument display is another digital LCD display like the HyperMotard. A long segmented arc measures the rpm at top, and once you get going the rest of the display burst into life with all manner of readings. Even at a standstill the bike feels lighter than the 996 - it is, by an awful lot of pounds. On the road this translates directly into easier, lighter steering, and much better side to side transitions. The lack of weight is simply amazing. This thing can be hurled into a corner. Just grab the bars and smash it down. It even begs for more!

The engine was very tight on this example, with a mere 48 miles on it when I started. I have my mechanical sympathies to consider and kept the revs below about 6000rpm - it's not mine, but it could be! The engine 'carburettes' well (what do you call fuel injection doing it's job?) There didn't strike me to be any nasty lean spots, and the engine was very smooth from the get go. There is still a little of the John Deere tractor sound track about the engine, particularly at low rpm, but the oil bathed clutch does not add its ruminations to the mechanical sounds, so the engine is significantly quieter than the air-cooled clutch predecessors. Yanking the throttles open was not like doing the same on either the HyperMotard or my 996. The power was delivered in a much more restrained manner, but holding on soon had the bike hurtling forward. Mechanical sympathy for a bike with, what, 55 miles on it by now, left me rolling back the throttle.

If the HyperMotard has brakes designed to stop a Super Tanker in 20ft from 20kts, then the 848 has the type of parts bin theft that leaves you wondering. It's not that the brakes are bad, they have pretty much the same feel as those on the 996, but they are just not the monobloc animals we are used to seeing on Ducati's.

The 848 comes in at $13,000. It's not a steal, but it is a very competent sports bike.

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